It’s one of the biggest parts of a trip. If you have ever traveled at all, which I’m sure most of you have, you know what I mean. The sense of anticipation before a trip is strong, especially if the plans are made months in advance. I experienced this on our recent trip to the Holy Lands.
Our Pastor announced plans for a trip to Israel toward the end of 2017. My husband and I attended the first information meeting in January of 2018 and decided the time was right. Our two children were grown and gone, we had no pressing responsibilities, we wanted to go. It was a trip we had dreamed of for a long time.
I had almost a year to dream, ponder and plan. What would it be like traveling to Israel? Would I feel safe? Would it look like I imagined? Would I be overwhelmed by the spiritual significance of the land? So many thoughts swirled around my mind for months.
As in any trip, I had preconceived notions about the Holy Lands. I knew some of the places we visited would draw a strong emotional response but I was unsure about others. Mainly, I was excited to visit such an ancient, historic, spiritual place.
It has been a little over a month since we returned from our trip. I enjoy reflecting on the places we visited and the things we learned. Some of it was just how I imagined but most of it different. Places I thought would be especially moving were not and others that I didn’t even think about that much were. One of those places was Magdala.
Why Magdala Surprised Me
We visited Magdala on the second day of our tour of the Holy Lands. It was the last stop of the day before we returned to our hotel in Tiberius, a few miles away. It didn’t look like much but it ended up being very interesting.
As is true of many historical places around the world, the ruins of Magdala were found by accident and fairly recently. A Roman Catholic priest wanted to build a Christian retreat center on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In 2009, he was given permission but first, the prerequisite archaeological study. When they began the dig, they discovered the remains of a first century synagogue. The project was put on hold as more of the property was excavated. They found remains of ritual baths, homes, a market place and storage pools for the fish Magdala was famous for processing. Archeologists are still working at the site. (You can read more about it here.)
A Spiritual Center With A Tribute to Women
We left the area of excavation and walked down a path toward the Sea of Galilee. Our destination, the beautiful Duc In Altum which opened in 2014.
We entered through a door on the lower level and our first stop was the Encounter Chapel. The floor was from the first century marketplace. Jesus probably walked across this floor. There was a beautiful painting of the woman with the issue of blood who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’s garment. The artist captured the significance of the encounter even though you only see feet.
When we went upstairs, we walked through a large open space into a chapel. It contained the most unique pulpit in the shape of a fisherman’s boat. There was a large window behind the boat/pulpit so you had a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee. It made you think of the times Jesus stood in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee and preached to the multitudes.
Our guide led us back into the large, open space which is called the Women’s Atrium. It is a tribute to women who love God and live by faith. The colors were soft. It was a serene space. There was a painting of a woman’s hands on the ceiling and eight marble columns circling the walls of the room. Our guide explained that each column bore the name of a woman mentioned in the Bible who followed Jesus. I walked around the room and saw the names engraved on each column: Mary Magdalene, Susana and Joanna, Mary and Martha, Salome, mother of James and John, Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, Mary, wife of Cleopas and the many other unnamed women who followed and supported Jesus. She then pointed out one bare column, the one column without an engraved name. Tears stung my eyes and I got a lump in my throat when she told us why the column was bare.
The bare column represents all of the women through all of time who have followed and still follow Jesus today.
Women silently touched the column as they walked by. Some said a prayer. I imagined what that column would look like with names of women etched, painted, engraved or marked on it. The marble would probably not even be visible. I imagined the column with my name on it.
A few days later, I celebrated my birthday in Jerusalem, which was pretty amazing. A dear friend who was also on the trip wrote me a note on the back of the envelope containing a birthday card. The tears stung again.
I have a question for you. Would your name be on the column? I sure hope so.
If you have any questions about my experience at Magdala or any of the other places we visited in the Holy Lands, please feel free to ask me.